I have to admit that this feels pretty weird -- writing a monthly letter, that is, but I've been following your notes here for months now and you all seem so real to me, I thought I'd better introduce myself. I'm Claire Thompson and have been all my life. I might have been Claire Richards or, to the delight of pun-lovers everywhere, Claire Day (can you see forever?), but Claire Thompson I am and always will be.
Of course you all know the story of my arrival at St Theresa's in North York, back in the summer of 69, so you'll have guessed that I have a major birthday coming up this year. From what I've read, my mother would have been given a brief time -- 15 minutes or so -- after my birth to say goodbye to me in private and then one of the sisters would have taken me to the nursery until my adoption while my mother packed up her things and was escorted from the grounds and back into the world which had rejected her for being pregnant and unmarried. There would have been a list of people just waiting for that phone call to say that a healthy baby had been born: my parents were Bob and Maureen Thompson from Niagara-on-the-Lake and they drove up immediately to get me. Dad had been a pilot in the RCAF during the Second World War. He met Mom after the war had ended. They married when she wasn't long out of high school and bought a place in Hamilton. Unusually for married women of her time, Mom went to university and got her BA in History. When they moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Mom began to write her first book, a local history about the region's United Empire Loyalists. They always figured children would come along at some point, but by the time Mom turned 40 and Dad was 50, it was beginning to look like that wasn't going to happen and so they began to contact these schools for "wayward girls" and were added to various waiting lists.
My life was pretty normal. I was an only child, but never felt as if I missed out on something by not having siblings. My parents were always open with me and I knew I was adopted, and I always knew how much they'd wanted me, so I never wondered too much about my biological family. I had lots of friends, took part in lots of clubs and sports, worked in my dad's restaurant as soon as I was old enough -- a pretty basic childhood. When I was 15 we moved to Vancouver to look after my dad's parents, who were in their 90s and just couldn't look after themselves. We were close: they might have been from such a different time than I was, but I loved them and felt I could tell them anything. But I wasn't happy with leaving Ontario and starting at a new school and having to make new friends, and I kind of took it out on my parents. I knew even then that I was being unfair, but I still did it; I remember how hurt Dad looked when I said I wished my birth parents had kept me. It must have been so hard on him to be raising a teenager when he was retired.
Our relationship improved as I grew out of this phase and went to UBC. I had to work through university, and not just the summers either, but evenings, weekends -- whenever I could -- to be able to afford to finish my degree. I lived at home and took the bus to classes and in 1991 graduated with a BSc in Geology and without any debt! No money either, but one of the several jobs I worked to get through school had been at the university, so after graduation I applied, and was hired, for a full-time position in the Science Department, working with undergraduates only weeks after I'd been one of them. Night school beckoned and I kept at it and finished my Masters two years later, by which time I'd put aside enough money to put a down payment on a condo and finally, at the age of 24, moved out on my own. Academia had become my world and there are only limited opportunities for promotion with an MSc, so I began working part-time on my PhD. It took six years from start to finish but I became Dr Thompson shortly before my 31st birthday. I'm now a post-doc Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, but I spend a lot of my time abroad on research projects.
My dad died eleven years ago and I still miss him. Mom was 80 on her last birthday and is going strong. She has been fascinated by the development of the internet, and internet genealogy in particular. Her books have always been available through various history societies, and she runs her local family history group's website and answers queries from people all over the world. We've spent many a weekend transcribing details from graves and wondering about the lives of those people they commemorate. She never discouraged me from looking for my own family. St Theresa's closed long ago, as have most of such places, since society's attitudes towards unmarried mothers has changed. After a lot of soul-searching, I placed my name and date and place of birth on Ontario's Adoption Disclosure Register in early 2006 and heard back within months: my birth father had registered with them as soon as the ADR began operating. He had been trying to find me since my birth mother was sent away from Vancouver and had even joined a group for birth fathers of babies born at St Theresa's and similar places.
We e-mailed and talked on the phone a few times before our first meeting. I asked Mom to come along with me since I couldn't imagine doing this without her. My birth father -- Frank Day -- still lived in Vancouver and was able to tell me about about my birth mother, Elly Richards. I learned that she had a brother, came from a musical family (a complete surprise to me as I'm practically tone-deaf!), and that her parents had lived in Vancouver until fairly recently when her mother had died and her father moved to Ontario. I couldn't believe it. I didn't recognize their names, but wondered if I'd ever seen them in a shop or at the park or just walking along the coast: would we have recognized something in each other that identified us as relatives? In time I met Frank's wife and son, and I began to make plans to travel to Ontario to find my birth mother and her family. I had her married name and a quick Google search had located her husband's dental office ("20% off cosmetic whitening for all new clients"), a newspaper announcement from "Elly & John, Phil & Georgia" congratulating "Jim & Iris Richards" on their fifth anniversary, several items from the Valley Voice about Elizabeth Patterson's wedding last summer, which must have been quite the major event to have so many local businesses close for the day to contribute their goods and services. The Valley Voice, one of Milborough's local papers, also had a number of
I borrowed my mother's guise as "local historian" and made a few posts on Milborough message boards, making some contacts and learning a little bit about the local dentist with the train obsession, and about his wife who briefly owned a bookstore. I began to get a bit worried about what I might find. Frank has been supportive, and even told me that my sister Elizabeth had moved to Vancouver after her wedding -- he arranged for us to meet. I thought she seemed fairly normal, even superficially like me at that age -- in appearance but not in attitude. She was expecting her first baby at the time -- my nephew, James, has since arrived -- so I sensed that she was preoccupied and unable to tell me too much about my birth mother. Our visit was enough to persuade me that it was time to fly down east and meet Elly Richards for myself.
Seeing as I haven't actually met Elly in person yet, I'll leave further stories of my Milborough family until my next letter. I've only another eight days in Ontario before I return to BC, so I'll wait until I've had some time to digest all I've learned and seen on my visit here.